Voter Registration on the Rise
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Voter Registration on the Rise

Date: September 23, 2008
By: Juana Summers
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - While thousands of new voter registrations have rolled into Missouri's largest counties, in Boone County with one of the state's highest concentrations of students, the number of new voter registrations has dropped with just 43 days left until the November election.

It's just the opposite statewide where Missouri's Secretary of State reports about 200,000 new voters have registered since the start of the year.

According to information from the Boone County Clerk's office, 22 percent fewer voters have registered in the county this year than at the same period in 2004.

"2004 was our record year," said Boone County's Clerk, Wendy Noren. "But for the last several months it hasn't been quite as much."

As of Tuesday, more than 13,000 new voters had registered in Boone County, compared with approximately 16,000 for the first nine months of the 2004.

Missouri traditionally has been positioned as a bellwether state, as the state's voters have selected the presidential winner in every election since 1904, except the 1956 election.  This year the state is again up for grabs, and campaigns have targeted unregistered voters as prime territory.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's campaign set an public goal to register 75,000 additional voters in Missouri. Republican candidate Sen. John McCain has also made tracks across the state, and his campaign has also targeted unregistered voters.

Noren said she's not exactly sure why voter registration is lagging in Boone County, but said she thinks the energy surrounding the 2006 U.S. Senate race could have something to do with it.

"In 2006, it was quite a bit higher than in the normal off-year election because we had a big Senate race, so there are not as many people to register."

But the picture is different in other parts of the state, where election officials are struggling to process new voter registrations by the deadline. According to Missouri law, new voter registrations must be processed within seven days.

"We're just barely keeping our heads above water," said Rich Chrismer, election director for St. Charles County -- one of the Republican strongholds in the state.

The county has hired temporary staff to help process all the new voter registrations.  Chrismer said the county currently has more than 237,000 voters registered.  This is the largest number of registered voters the county's ever had.

St. Charles County is on pace to surpass the 12,000 new voters the county registered in 2004, the last presidential election year.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the state's top election official, said the number of registered voters in Missouri has increased by 200,000 since January.  About 170,000 of those voters were registered since the state's Feb. 5 primary. Additional registrations are still being processed across the state.

There are currently more than four million registered voters in the state of Missouri, according to the Secretary of State's office.

The Jackson County election board, which represents the Kansas City metropolitan area, also is feeling the crunch due to the volume of new voter registrations.

"It's been a challenge," said Charlene Davis, Republican Director for the Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners.

About 18,000 additional voters have registered in the county since January, a number that Davis said is slightly above normal for a presidential election year.  The Jackson County office has also added temporary staff to help them shoulder some of their work.

The deadline to register to vote in Missouri is Oct. 8 to be eligible to vote in the November election.  Absentee voting for the November election began Sept. 24 and will continue through Nov. 3.

Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.